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They come and go: On U-M equipment manager Jon Falk's retirement


 Jon Falk first met football coach Bo Schembechler in 1967.  Falk was a freshman working in the equipment room at Miami of Ohio, and Schembechler was the head coach. Schembechler seemed pretty gruff to Falk, so he avoided him. That was not going to work for long. 

Falk graduated from Miami in 1971 and stayed on as the football team’s assistant equipment manager. He lived at home with his mother and his grandmother and took care of them. In 1974 Bo invited Falk to interview in Ann Arbor. Falk had never lived anywhere but tiny Oxford, Ohio, so he was a little apprehensive about going to such a big place.

When he returned, he told his mother and grandmother that he was going to turn down Coach Schembechler’s offer because he did not want to leave the two of them by themselves. That night, around four in the morning, Falk’s mother came into his room, crying. She said it hurt her to say it, but he must go to Michigan. “I know Coach Schembechler will take care of you.”

His mom was right.  The first few weeks Falk was in town, he ate almost every dinner at the Schembechler’s home. 

But that didn’t mean Bo was easy on Falk. When Bo wanted a whistle or a pylon or a blocking dummy, he wanted it that second, and whatever it was, usually came from Falk. Patience was not Bo’s greatest virtue.

Bo once told me why he was so demanding of his staff. “Jon Falk’s job is not to fit a few hundred helmets every season. His job is to help us win Big Ten titles, and he does that by being the best equipment manager in college football. And when we win a Big Ten title, he gets a ring, too.”

Falk has 17 of those rings by now – and he has a good chance for his 18th this fall, with Michigan the likely favorite to win the division. 

Falk has also earned the devotion of over a thousand Michigan football players. When they come back, their first stop is usually Big Jonny’s office.

Falk also earned Bo’s respect.  And there’s no better proof of that than having Bo give you a hard time – and letting you give it back.

One day, Bo needed a buck for the vending machine.  Falk was walking by, so Bo asked him.  Falk pulled out his walled, and produced a dollar – but when he did so, Bo noticed a lottery ticket in Falk’s wallet.

“Now what the hell do you have that for?” Bo asked. "We pay you well, and you will never have a better job than this one!”

Falk didn’t hesitate. “Coach, the minute my ticket hits, I’m walking straight into your office, and I’m gonna tell you, ‘Jon Falk is outta here!’”

Bo just stared at Falk, then finally started to grin. “Big Jonny, before you do all that, you better make damn sure you have all six numbers.” 

Just a couple days after Bo left Michigan to work for the Detroit Tigers, he came back to the football building to work out — but his name had already been removed from his locker. Bo said, “Falk, what the hell is this?”

Falk just shrugged, and gave Bo that line from "The Natural": “They come and they go, Hobbs. They come and they go.”

They do, but I don’t know where the lettermen will go now. 

John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
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